A grey damp afternoon and threatening dark clouds set the scene leading up to our visit to Stonepit Field (SP 84489 42160) on Tuesday 4th June 2019, but by the time we gathered the clouds had just begun to clear so the evening ended with bright sun and clear blue skies. Surprisingly, with such unappealing weather in the lead up, around 20 members had assembled to enjoy the visit.
Mike LeRoy gave a brief explanation of the site’s geology and its history since the 1960s. The woodland flanking the Railway Walk dates from the end of the 1970s, part of the New Town ‘advance tree planting’ by Milton Keynes Development Corporation (MKDC). In the early 1990s a MKDC project was implemented to convert a former barley field into flower-rich limestone grassland. A ‘scrape’ of exposed limestone was formed at the same time. More recently, around 2007, two flood-management ponds were inserted into the lower slopes for the nearby housing at Oakridge Park.
Our walkabout started by the ‘scrape’ with Gordon Redford demonstrating use of a pheromone lure to attract Six-belted Clearwing moths Bembecia ichneumoniformis; a demonstration because these day-fliers are known to be present at the site but don’t turn out readily on a cool evening. The next centre of attention was Bee Orchids, which had come into flower on the scrape over the previous couple of days.
We then formed several smaller groups. One led by Harry Appleyard circled the more wooded parts of the site and the ponds in search of birds, and found a surprisingly wide range as this is not known as a bird site. 30 species were seen or heard, including Grey Heron and Little Egret on the east pond, at least two Bullfinch and over 16 Wood Pigeon, as well as two Song Thrush, with one singing beautifully.
An invertebrate search group was led by Gordon Redford. The wide range of plants and dense grassland at the site attract many insects and other invertebrates, but far more of them on a sunny daytime than on a cool evening after rain. Over 20 butterfly species are seen in the grassland and on hedges and trees, but not on this evening. Day-flying moths are also seen here and the Burnet-companion moth Euclidia glyphicais seen widely at present. The search group found five other moth species including the micro-moth Agapeta hamana. Several other insects were found including a whole group of Bishop’s mitre shieldbugs Aelia acuminata. A Common malachite beetle Malachius bipustulatuswas found as well as a Swollen-thighed beetle Oedemera nobilis.Several of the common Bumblebees were still flying low in the vegetation.
A tree and shrubs group was led by Alan Birkett. 15 tree species were found and nine shrubs. These included Alder Buckthorn Frangula alnus, which is a foodplant of the Brimstone butterfly. A few exotic tree species were not identified, but these were not generally thriving.
Most opted to identify flora, led by Roy Maycock and by searches with Mary Sarre and Jenny Mercer. Although this is largely a created grassland from seeds sown over 25 years ago, other plants have found their way there. Only a few meadow grass species had been sown: these had been selected as ‘low competition’ species, together with a semi-parasitic plant, Yellow Rattle Rhinanthus minor. This has enabled other flowering plants to flourish. The group found another semi-parasitic plant in small numbers: Common Broomrape Orobanche minor. The remnants of plenteous Cowslip were widely across the grassland and the Buttercups were past their best, but the group found a wide range of meadow flowers including: vetches & trefoils, bedstraws, three plantain species, cranesbills, scabious, white and red campion, and numerous other plants. One of particular interest was the small bright crimson flower on a grass-like stem of the Grass Vetchling Linifolius nissolia. Other plants such as Yarrow Achillea millefoliumwere just emerging.
We had a surprisingly productive evening and found much more than might have been expected so soon after rain. The delight was a site full of flowering plants and alive with small creatures in a fine evening sunlight.
Photo at top of page Sawfly ©Julian Lambley, Stonepit Field 4 June 2019
- 3 Blackbird – with 1 singing.
- 2 Magpie
- 4 Starlings – Passing over, heading east.
- 1 Goldfinch (Likely more)
- 2 Feral Pigeon – Passing over towards new housing
- 7 Jackdaw
- 2 Lesser Black-backed Gull – Passing over, heading east.
- 3 Swift – Hawking over the woodland.
- 1 Chiffchaff – Singing at the edge of the woodland.
- 4 Mallard – At least 4 seen, initially passing overhead and pair at one of the ponds later.
- 2 Wren – At least 2 heard singing and making alarm calls at perched Buzzard.
- 2 Song Thrush – At least 2 present, with 1 singing.
- 1 Blue Tit – Heard calling.
- 1 Blackcap – Heard singing.
- 16 Wood Pigeon – At least 16 seen, mostly passing over.
- 1 Collared Dove – Passing over, heading towards new housing.
- 1 Great Tit – Heard calling.
- 1 Dunnock – Heard singing.
- 2 Bullfinch – At least 2 present, with a male seen singing over one of the meadows and a pair in flight.
- 1 Buzzard – Perched in woodland.
- 1 Robin – Heard singing.
- 1 Mistle Thrush – Perched near the canal.
- 1 Chaffinch – Heard singing.
- 1 Kingfisher – Male, perched at one of the ponds.
- 1 Grey Heron – At one of the ponds.
- 1 Moorhen – At one of the ponds.
- 1 House Sparrow – Male, foraging in reeds at one of the ponds.
- 1 Stock Dove – Passing over, heading east.
- 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker – Heading towards Linford Lakes
- 1 Little Egret – on the Eastern pond
Click here to see the Stonepit Field Park Cumulative Site List of Species